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2006 08 01
Brave New Toronto? The (il)Luminat(i) are Coming!
Toronto's newest arts festival, unveiled yesterday and scheduled to premiere as a ten-day event in June 2007, will be called Luminato. The festival describes itself as "a unique partnership between the arts and the culturally diverse city of Toronto that will showcase the best of Canadian and international artists in theatre, contemporary and classical music, dance, visual arts, film, design, literature, architecture and more." The festival launch is planned to coincide with the opening of the Libeskind-designed Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, and will feature events including a specially-commissioned musical created by Eric Idle and John Du Prez, week-long events and showcases (many free), and a closing weekend event called 'Carnivalissima: A Spectacle of the Senses'. Sounds interesting.

The Festival has hired Janice Price as its Chief Executive Officer (having seduced her away from previous appointments at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and most recently as President and CEO of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia). The Festival is reportedly the genesis of Tony Gagliano and David Pecaut, and lists as Advisory Committee members such luminaries as Bill Boyle (CEO, Harbourfront Centre), Atom Egoyan (filmmaker and director), Piers Handling (Director and CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival), Karen Kain (Artistic Director, National Ballet of Canada), Bruce Kuwabara (Partner in Kuwabara Payne McKenna Bloomberg), Bruce Mau (Chairman and CEO, Bruce Mau Design Inc.), Peter Oundjian (Music Director, Toronto Symphony Orchestra), Albert Schultz (General Director, Young Centre for the Performing Arts), Matthew Teitelbaum (Director, Art Gallery of Ontario), and William Thorsell (Director and CEO, Royal Ontario Museum). Clearly the Festival has its financial ducks lined up and is coordinating with Toronto's biggest cultural and arts players.

Luminato seems a direct implementation of many of the recommendations in the City's Imagine a Toronto ... Strategies for a Creative City report, released just last week. And indeed, Toronto Mayor David Miller applauded the Festival yesterday, commenting that "culture and creativity are the sharp edge of Toronto's competitive advantage." Clearly what we are seeing is the City's new sales pitch, a new trajectory designed to put memories of the 2003 SARS crisis firmly behind us and to reorient the city at a time when its economic structures are in flux (especially as the city shifts more firmly away from manufacturing and toward technology, financial, and cultural directions). The question is, can it work?

At the moment, Luminato seems very well timed. This year's much-lauded opening of the MaRS Discovery District innovation centre and the long anticipated Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (home to the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada) both underscore a resurgence in the city's architectural and artistic presence, as does the ROM crystal (one of my very favourite construction sites in the city) and the AGO's profound renovations. A celebration of these achievements seems very much in order.

But I wonder how well the Festival will manage to bring together the city's widest spectrum of arts and culture. It is unclear who Luminato sees as its chief audience. Certainly the Festival will compete for regional and international tourists, bigger consumers of the city's cultural products who also spread the word. It will also want to gain the voice of international cultural arbiters in order to raise the city's profile. And the number of 'free' events planned seems to indicate some interest in sharing the Festival with Toronto's citizens, who put up with construction delays and road blockages and who also ultimately pay for these venues. Perhaps the festival can manage to attract all these audiences, in which case it will have accomplished something rare.

Similarly, I wonder whether Luminato will focus only on the higher-end cultural events it has listed to date, or if it will also tap into the city's hugely diverse self-starter arts culture which, if I must list, includes organizations and projects like [murmur], the Scream in High Park, lecture series like Trampoline Hall and Salon Voltaire, festivals like Pride, Caribana, Taste of the Danforth, and hundreds of other events which receive varied amounts of funding and publicity seemingly unrelated to their importance or success.

At present, Luminato's (very much draft) programming strikes me as just faintly tepid, rather like its (current) lukewarm slogan, "celebrating the creative spirit". The events listed strike me as being slightly derivative, particularly the 'Carnivalissima' event (misspelled several times in the website) which seems to cobble together the city's various cultural festivals into a single event. This, I believe, has been tried before with limited success. Similarly, the Ontario Oratorio musical seems to try a little too hard and risks coming across as parochial. I was surprised not to see a listing of any other events, particularly those long-standing arts and cultural festivals the city has boasted for years. I worry a little that this new festival might not elevate but instead spread too thin the city's cultural assets. I hope that in the city's quest to grasp the great cultural ring we do not trample all over our existing creativity.

But these are early days in Luminato's planning. The festival seems to have the backing and budget to do great things for the city. And, if the festival runs as it could, with free public events designed to attract a diverse array of artists and audiences, I will look forward to it. Most particularly I look forward to touring the new Royal Ontario Museum and looking out through that beautiful crystal I have watched unfold like a great flower and which I see as an organic harbinger of what can be accomplished in this city. New world order, indeed.

(Image of fireworks at Toronto City Hall taken by Erin Pryde and used under the aegis of a Creative Commons license.)
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 08/01 at 10:56 AM

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